Among private renters, the housing crisis is a more pressing concern than Brexit

Houses! But not for you. Image: Getty.

It’s now just 78 days until Halloween, the day when, if the Johnson-Cummings-Number 10 media machine are to be taken at their word, we will leave the European Union “do or die”. With the EU refusing to renegotiate Theresa May’s failed deal, and with no clarity on whether parliament can extend or revoke Article 50, the chances of crashing out on 31 October look more likely by the day.

It’s an outcome that the Confederation of British Industry, the Trades Union Congress, the Bank of England, and numerous public and private bodies have warned would be a disaster for the British economy. But, according to a new poll, the public have a more pressing concern – namely the country’s lack of affordable housing.

While the difficulties of Brexit have locked Westminster into endless clashes over parliamentary procedure, historical precedent, and all the possible outcomes of the unwritten constitutional minefield that will be navigated come September, 72 per cent of private renters think that the rising cost of housing will impact them personally in the next five years compared with just 51 per cent who think the same for Brexit. For the general public, 57 per cent think the housing crisis will affect them, compared with 56 per cent who think the same for EU withdrawal.


Three quarters of those polled said that Britain had a housing crisis, whilst 55 per cent of the total, and 68 per cent of renters, thought this hadn’t been discussed enough in the past few years. Sp,e 60 per cent of respondents said the political parties didn’t pay a lot of attention to housing.

In 2015, the year the EU referendum was called by David Cameron, only 16,000 genuinely affordable homes were built. The homeless charity Shelter estimates that over 100,000 such homes need to be built every year to solve the housing crisis. Last year, the Bank of England governor, Mark Carney, warned that a no deal, disorderly Brexit from the EU could see house prices plunge by as much as 35 per cent, a seemingly attractive prospect for people who have been priced out of home ownership by the crisis of affordability, but one that would have serious consequences for homeowners, housebuilders and the wider economy.

Esther McVey, the new minister of state for housing and planning, has signalled a departure from the last government's leftward shift on housing. Theresa May had announced new funding for socially rented homes and the scrapping of the borrowing cap for councils wishing to expand their housing stock. In contrast, McVey, the fourth housing minister since the 2017 election, has spoken of a renewal of the “dream of homeownership”.

Labour promises a dedicated Secretary of State for Housing and a separate housing department tasked with building 1 million social homes over 10 years.

This article previously appeared on our sister site the New Statesman.

 
 
 
 

On boarded-up storefronts, muralists offer words of hope

The murals on closed storefronts aim "to end ugly wall syndrome." (Courtesy of Beautify)

In Los Angeles, Melrose Avenue has a new mural that reads: “Cancel plans, not humanity.”

It’s an artwork by Corie Mattie, a street artist who kindly reminds us of our togetherness under quarantine. She and many other artists are putting murals up across the US as part of the Back to the Streets campaign, which aims to add some color to the streets – specifically on boarded up storefronts and abandoned streets that feel deserted during the coronavirus pandemic.

The goal is to bring some beauty to the streets while everything is boarded up – “to end ugly wall syndrome,” says project founder Evan Meyer. “It’s to get people to care about their communities, be part of the process.” 


Many of the murals are painted on plywood panels that cover the entryways to independent businesses that have shut down during the pandemic. The project aims to prevent a sense of decay, especially as some businesses start to open back up while their neighbours remain closed.

“We need to protect our streets from becoming sad places quickly, when places are abandoned and don’t feel like they have love or life,” says Meyer, who is also the CEO of Beautify, a company that connects artists with places to make murals. Among the murals made during the pandemic, one at a department store says “Togetherness,” while another says: “You can’t quarantine love.”

“We’re seeing messages like hope, positivity and community,” Meyer says. “More than ever, it’s a time for community.”


(Courtesy of Beautify)

With artist-led projects in L.A., Seattle, San Francisco, Santa Monica, Pasadena, and others, the goal is to get 1,000 murals up across America. Murals are also being painted in small towns in Iowa, like Council Bluffs and Dubuque, and an earlier mural in New York City’s Rockaway Beach was created in 2014 with the same goal of bringing some life to neglected buildings that needed renovation after Hurricane Sandy

“We need to protect our streets from becoming sad places with broken windows, tagging and crime,” says Meyer. “A lot can happen if a place feels like it’s unwatched.” 

Los Angeles councilmember David Ryu endorsed the initiative in a recent blog post, saying it has helped boost morale on the streets of L.A. “When we brighten blighted walls, we improve neighborhoods,” he wrote. “It’s critical to have more business owners enlist their walls here to bring some much needed love and recognition to their establishment and their neighborhood.” 

The effort stems from a sister project called Beautify Earth, which has helped address a litter problem in Santa Monica’s commercial district. In addition to a cleanup force, the project has painted more than 100 murals on walls, dumpsters, utility boxes and garbage cans across the city.

On the Beautify website, artists can find business improvement districts, real estate developers, landlords and business owners who want to see something on their empty walls. Each artist who gets a commissioned wall through the Beautify website is paid 78% of the stipend, and Beautify takes a 22% administration fee. 

Meyer says he often explains to business owners that art can help their business.

“A lot of people have white empty wall space on their liquor stores, condos, park walls, even residential spaces,” says Meyer, adding that many are afraid to put something on their walls. “It’s not a liability, it’s an asset. Art protects walls, it is a graffiti abatement strategy.”


(Courtesy of Beautify)

Beautify isn’t alone in its field. Among the other cities that have similar mural projects, ArtPlace America has supported over 200 art murals across the US. Wynwood Walls, a public art project in Miami spearheaded by local developer Tony Goldman, has helped create a popular public art hotspot with murals by artists Shepard Fairey and Ron English. 

Chicago’s city government, too, has publicly funded over 500 murals through its Percent-for-Art program, which pays artists to paint walls on municipal buildings. A grassroots street art project in the state of Zacatecas, Mexico, has artists painting murals in violent and marginalised neighbourhoods. Similar crime prevention ventures have been initiated in Topeka, Kansas, in St. Louis, Missouri, and in Toronto, Canada, which has placed over 140 murals across the city over the past decade. 


Artist Ruben Rojas has painted murals saying "You Can't Quarantine Love" in several spots across Santa Monica, California. (Courtesy of Beautify)

One artist working with Beautify’s project is Ruben Rojas, who is overwhelmed by the response to his mural, “You Can’t Quarantine Love,” which has been painted in several spots across Santa Monica and beyond.

“Every day, I see the shares, photos of my murals, amazing captions and direct messages from folks that are truly heartwarming,” Rojas says. “I’ve seen this particular mural go around the world with ‘thank you’ messages from Johannesburg, Germany, and Italy. It really is humbling.”

Meyer says that kind of social media engagement shows how a mural can turn a plain old wall into a landmark. 

“Murals get seen,” he says. “People take photos and share them on social media. Nobody takes photos of your ugly white wall. Murals are the story of the local community.”

Nadja Sayej is an arts and culture journalist based in New York City.